A proposed free school, Wey ecademy
has a vision to ‘reshape education in England’. It will demolish ‘barriers to a first class education’ and ‘give choice to every postcode’.
How will it do this? It will provide full-time education to 10-19 year-olds via the internet.
Education is, of course, more than following a syllabus – it’s about children meeting others, making friends, engaging in physical activity and learning to cope in a social as well as a working environment.
The ecademy’s prospectus
seems to recognise this – but many clubs etc are on-line. Some would argue children already spend too much time on-line without being expected to receive their full-time education via a medium full of distractions.
Extra-curricular activities, the prospectus suggests, could be fulfilled by attending local clubs and groups. But these usually entail a cost. Pupils in normal schools are not expected to pay for extra-curricular activities such as ‘enrichment’ activities or sport unless the activities involve a theatre visit, say, or a residential course.
On-line education, especially if full-time, demand a high degree of self-motivation, maturity and discipline.
Nowhere in the prospectus does the eacademy mention supervision by a real adult as opposed to a virtual one. Wey ecademy says its school is for children as young as ten. Perhaps it’s assumed there will be an adult around to keep the child on task but this isn’t made explicit. The Department for Education
(DfE) says children under 12 are too immature to be left for long periods of time so will it approve free school offering full-time on-line education to 10 year-olds? And even those youngsters deemed old enough to be left alone might find alternative things to do - we're talking about teenagers here.
The eacademy prepares pupils for exams which, the prospectus says, would be taken at local exam centres. But not all schools accept ‘private’ candidates
. External candidates have to provide proof of identity
such as a passport. Pupils without such proof would need to present a private candidate identification form with two photos to the exam centre at the time of entry. Presumably parents would have to take responsibility for this. These regulations apply to GCSEs and A Levels. It’s unclear what rules would apply to Key Stage 2 pupils taking SATs or older pupils taking the International Baccalaureate Diploma which Wey eacademy says it will be offering ‘in time’.
But who is behind the free school proposal which has already been turned down once? It’s Wey Education Schools Trust (WEST), the ‘vehicle’ set up by Zail Enterprises Ltd, a subsidiary of Wey Education PLC
. Zail hopes the ‘school management model’, running free schools or academies, will help ‘generate long term profitability and a return to shareholders’.
Education delivered on-line has its uses. School refusers, children with medical conditions, children in remote areas (providing the broadband is up to it) and children who move around a lot could benefit from such lessons.
However, it would be more beneficial to children if on-line tuition was linked to existing brinks-and-mortar schools (with proper funding, of course). They would be able to join the normal school when circumstances changed and there would be no problem with confirming identity when taking exams. Pupils would benefit from being part of a real, rather than virtual, community.
WEST is also supporting the proposal for Peckham Free School
. It says it 'will be the trust responsible for running the school if approved with the group constituting the local governing body'. For more information about Wey Education PLC and its belief in 2011 that the Government's academies and free schools programme 'will create increased opportunities for private sector companies to manage and run state-funded schools at all levels'
and how it 'intends to follow a policy of both organic expansion and acquisition to establish a meaningful market share' here